The Cactus Blossoms Blend Brotherly Harmony On New Album 'Easy Way'Play
It's called "blood harmony": siblings whose voices blend beautifully to create a rich, vibrant sound. The Everly Brothers had it, so did The Beach Boys.
And so do The Cactus Blossoms — Minnesota brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey. The alt-country duo is out with a new album, "Easy Way," and is about to head out on tour. Rolling Stone has called their sound a cross between Roy Orbison and the '70s rock band Television.
Burkum says singing harmonies with his brother came naturally.
"Jack was writing songs and singing a little bit on his own, and at one point, we were kind of both getting interested in country music and country duets and things like that," Burkum tells Here & Now's Eric Westervelt. "We just learned a song together, and neither of us had performed much publicly at all — I hadn't sung with anyone publicly, really, and was kind of trying to avoid that. But we started singing just a few songs at a time together, and it just grew into our band."
When he first started performing onstage, Torrey turned to a unique method of musical self-protection: playing open-mic nights and telling audience members that his own original songs were covers.
"I was playing a lot of folk songs, and I learned just about every Bob Dylan song. I started to have a couple of song ideas, and I didn't want anyone to ask me about them or judge me for them. So I thought it would be convenient just to blame the song on someone else," he says. "I never thought of playing other people's songs as a 'cover.' I always thought I could find a piece of myself and someone else's song, and voice it."
On whether they grew up in a musical family
Page Burkum: "I think we thought our family was fairly normal when we were kids, and I think I kind of took that for granted that a lot of the family members were comfortable singing together. A lot of them grew up in the church, or there was some gospel quartet in the family in the past and things like that. It was pretty normal for us, and I realized later that was pretty unique.
"We didn't really sing together — we weren't like the von Trapp Family Singers. But [we'd sing] things that every family does, like 'Happy Birthday,' or things like that. There would be harmonies going on."
Jack Torrey: "We'd sing in the car together, too, if a song we liked was on. It wasn't so much about singing things right, or together, it was just about having fun."
On feeling a connection to Bob Dylan, who also has Minnesota roots
Torrey: "I think we've gotten a lot of inspiration from the art he's made, and maybe a little bit of how he's handled himself over the years. I didn't realize how famous Bob Dylan was, because when you grow up in Minnesota and you hear his name, and I thought of him as more of a regional hero, not realizing that he was buddies with the Beatles and the Stones."
On taking a risk by making their album without input or feedback from an executive producer
Torrey: "For us, I mean, we were kind of in between tours and we actually were moving away from our record label and all this stuff was up in the air, and we didn't really have a strict timeline to make this record. And so we thought it would be fun to just take our time. We didn't have all the songs ready, which a producer would like. But we were comfortable jumping into the project without having all the songs finished. The whole thing was just kind of an experiment. Sometimes it's great to have outside input. But sometimes it's nice to be completely free of thinking about what something sounds like or doesn't sound like, and just making a sound you want to make."
Burkum: "I'd add to that, sometimes you're curious what's down at the end of the road, and someone else would tell you, 'Don't go that direction,' but you're curious and you just want to — even if it's a dead end — you want to get there yourself and then turn around. Then you know what's going on."
Alex Ashlock produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on March 1, 2019.